Sometimes it is difficult to find books about civil rights that can be read comfortably by the youngest reader, but This Is the Dream, written by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander and illustrated by James Ransome, fits the bill. The authors have created a clear and concise poem following a simple rhythm that illuminates the milestones of civil rights history, from Jim Crow to the present. Ransome's understated, powerful collage illustrations bring together iconic images from newspapers with the faces of lesser-known people who bravely put themselves in harm's way to demand change. Ransome does not shy away from including unpleasant pictures of the time, especially the angry looks on the faces of white people. When the time shifts to the present, the colors change to warm blues as we see a water fountain, this time being shared by all: "This is the fountain that stands in the square,/and the unwritten rule is to take turns and share."
Nearly every child has heard of Rosa Parks, the recently deceased heroine of the Montgomery bus boycott. To honor her, poet Nikki Giovanni and artist Bryan Collier have teamed up to create a stunning new volume, Rosa. Moving beyond the familiar mythology of a woman too tired to move out of her seat, Giovanni and Collier tell the whole story of a strong woman with a mind of her own who knew the power of working with others. She sighed as she realized she was tired. Not tired from work but tired of putting white people first. Tired of stepping off sidewalks to let white people pass, tired of eating at separate lunch counters and learning at separate schools. . . . Tired of 'separate,' and definitely tired of 'not equal.' The cover shows the bus driver angrily willing this strong black woman to move and Parks' quiet defiance. The yellow wash of the illustrations reflects the hot Alabama sun as the book marches toward its stunning climax: a fold-out mural showing the proud, tired, resolved people of Montgomery preparing for the hard work to come.
Have you heard of W.W. Law of Savannah, Georgia? Well, I hadn't until I read Jim Haskins' Delivering Justice. Haskins, who died in July, was an award-winning writer who spent his career chronicling the history of African Americans. In his final book, he focuses on W.W. Law, who received little acclaim for his contribution to the civil rights movement. Through his activities with the NAACP, Law started the Savannah Boycott, a nonviolent protest by the black community that lasted for more than a year. With blacks refusing to shop in downtown Savannah, the city's businesses began to fail. Law used his job as a letter carrier to communicate with the white community, and little by little helped the two groups come together. Benny Andrews' oil and collage illustrations bring this important time to life for today's children and their parents.
Daphne Muse's collection of poetry, The Entrance Place of Wonders: Poems of the Harlem Renaissance, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb, is a celebration of a rich cultural tradition. From Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes to James Weldon Johnson, the leading poets of the Harlem Renaissance are all represented here. Though some adults might long for the stronger, more political poems these poets are famous for, young readers will enjoy the child-friendly poems that tread on some of the typical territory of childhood: reading, wishing, eating, singing and playing.
Every school and home library should find space for these fine books, during Black History Month and the whole year 'round.